Plans by local municipalities and farmers to hire federal riflemen to thin the South Fork’s deer population have encountered a new speed bump—in the form of permitting complications and the unexpected costs of processing the deer expected to be killed.
Nonetheless, organizers of the program say they are proceeding with the intention of carrying out the “cull” in late February or early March in Southold, East Hampton and Southampton towns.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has yet to sign off on the plans, and it is still not known whether the agency will allow a single permit to be issued for the East End-wide program or whether it will require each municipality where the hunting will take place to file a separate application—additional steps that could delay the cull.
State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. said there has been some discussion about whether each municipality would have to file for a permit, as well as completing a required environmental impact statement, for the hunting to be done within its boundaries, or whether the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is conducting the actual hunting, will file a single application and impact statement.
Mr. Thiele said he saw the most logical approach being that the USDA would receive permit approval, with only a single impact statement required, which would allow the hunt to take place as planned this winter. A spokesperson for the USDA, however, said that the standard is for each local municipality to submit an application to the state agency for a permit.
Officials at the DEC this week declined to comment on how the agency expects the permitting applications to be handled. No applications have been received as of yet, an agency spokesman said.
The program calls for a team of three federally trained and certified hunters to kill deer with high-powered rifles at night. The teams, who work for a division of the USDA, will use bait to attract groups of deer and either shoot them with high-powered rifles outfitted with night-vision equipment and gun silencers, or net them in bunches and dispatch them at close range.
The USDA has estimated its shooters could kill as many as 40 deer per night in some areas, nearly a thousand in the month or so planned for the culling program on the two Forks.
Each deer would be gutted by the hunters and removed from the property where it was killed. But the Long Island Farm Bureau, which proposed and is funding the hunt as a way of reducing the damage done to crops by growing deer herds, says that the cost of turning the deer killed by the sharpshooters into meat to be given to food pantries could force the scope of the hunt to be tailored considerably.
Farm bureau executive director Joe Gergela said that processors have told the USDA it will cost between $50 and $80 to have each deer butchered and processed so its meat can be delivered to local food pantries.
“We’re hoping to get some help with the butchering costs,” Mr. Gergela said. “The more help we get, the more deer we’ll be able to take. Unfortunately, there is not unlimited funding for this.”
The farm bureau received a $200,000 grant from New York State specifically for deer management on farmland. The USDA charges the owner of each property its sharpshooters remove deer from. If the culling program is implemented, the farm bureau will pay the portion of the costs for any farmers who want to participate and grant access to the federal sharpshooters.
The USDA and the farm bureau have touted the sharpshooter teams as the most humane, painless and effective way of reducing the deer herd. The program has been met with opposition from animal rights groups and some local residents, including a lawsuit filed by animal rights groups last month to stop East Hampton Town and East Hampton Village from participating in the program.
Mr. Gergela has dismissed the opposition as a “vocal minority” made up mostly of non-residents of the areas where the deer pose a nuisance and threat to private property.
Local hunters have also opposed the program, saying herd control would be better achieved by increasing the number of deer recreational hunters may take during the winter through traditional bow-and-arrow and shotgun hunting methods.
Mr. Thiele said that he and State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle are working with officials from the DEC on new legislation that would expand deer hunting opportunities on the East End.